My employer encourages philanthropy among their employees (which is awesome). Every year they have a week where employees are encourages to volunteer for various organizations during the work day, while still drawing full pay! Some of those organizations even come to our place of work to make this volunteering as convenient as possible. So last week, as part of one such charity endeavor, I saw in our lunch room nearly a dozen people tying two blankets together, over and over.
I don’t want to sound scrooge-like, but this seemed like an absolutely terrible charity.
To clarify: two moderately-thick pieces of cloth about 3’x3’ were placed one atop the other. The edges were then cut into strips about 1 inch wide and 4 inches long all along all four sides. The strips were then knotted together by hand, to form a single piece of cloth that was twice the previous thickness, about 2.5’x2.5’ in dimension.
I’m not one to say that poor people must dress in rags. I despise those assholes who say “Well you have a refrigerator and a cell phone, why the hell are you getting food aid?”. Poor people can have nice things too.
And perhaps there is some benefit to having a single double-thickness blanket rather than two single-thickness blankets. OK, you lose the ability to have less covering on warm nights, and you lose some square footage. But the blankets won’t get tangled up with each other, and one won’t slip off to the side or to the floor, so maybe that is worth the trade-off.
But this blanket-tying process was an incredibly time-intensive project. A pair of people would be laboring manually at these and producing maybe one every half hour. My SO pointed out that the introduction of a sewing machine would easily quintuple production, and save on lost square footage. It wouldn’t be as pretty, but I don’t think that’s as much of a concern as children shivering from the cold at night. A minor efficiency upgrade would provide warmth to 125 kids rather than 25 kids – I don’t think the aesthetics can compensate for that much lost utility.
Or one could simply give those families two blankets.
This charity seems to have provided almost NO appreciable improvement over the alternative of giving two un-joined blankets, but managed to soak up over 100 man-hours of volunteer labor. I have no idea how much good 100 man-hours of unskilled minimal labor can produce, but I’m willing to wager is more than “almost nothing”. This charity has taken away volunteer hours that could have gone to actual charities that do good. It is an Un-Charity.
I didn’t say anything (which is why I’m blogging instead) because I don’t want to be the asshole in the office. My co-workers who volunteered for this had good intentions. My employer was certainly trying to do a good thing as well. But seriously, why does it make me such a huge prick to point out that sometimes it’s important to say “fuck the intentions” and look at the actual outcomes? This is basically just way of making middle-class people feel warm and fuzzy that they’re so philanthropic, at the cost of actual philanthropy!
I can hear Robin Hanson sighing.